Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16062 CareerStart: Examining the Effects of Career Relevant Instruction Across the Middle Grades On High School Academic Performance

Friday, January 13, 2012: 8:30 AM
Arlington (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Michael Woolley, DCSW, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Roderick A. Rose, MS, Research Associate, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
George Unick, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Dennis K. Orthner, PhD, Professor, Associate Director for Policy Development and Analysis, Jordan Institute for Families, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Background and Purpose: CareerStart is a middle grades instructional intervention designed to promote the use of career examples in the core middle grades subjects—math, science, social studies, and language arts. Teachers are trained in the theory and strategy behind career relevant instruction (CRI) then provided well CRI-infused lessons with the expectation they will provide 10 such CRI lessons in all their class sections. Motivation and possible selves theories suggest that when students perceive what they are learning as relevant to their lives or futures, students will be more engaged and motivated to learn and experience higher academic achievement. Beginning in school year 2006-2007, 7 of 14 middle schools in a mixed urban and suburban school district in NC were randomly assigned to receive CareerStart. Rigorous evaluations of this implementation (including two of the other papers in this symposium) have revealed that student engagement in school (self-report) and math academic achievement (end-of-grade test scores) were positively impacted by CareerStart. Ninth grade outcome measures are now available for this evaluation cohort. This paper reports on analyses of those early high school outcomes to examine if CareerStart has lasting positive effects beyond middle school.

Methods: Multilevel models examined the effects of CareerStart during the middle grades on ninth grade outcomes, students were nested in the high schools they attended. An outcome of interest was progress toward high school completion. In high school, what grade you are in is not as important as accruing credits toward graduation (CTG) by taking and passing core courses. Therefore, a key ninth grade outcome of interest was how many CTGs students accrued. High school students also take end-of-course (EOC) tests, which in many school districts must also be passed for students to gain the related CTG. Therefore, EOC scores were also examined for Biology 1 and English 1, core courses for high school freshman. All analytic models also included gender, race/ethnicity, special education status, and standardized test scores for third-to-fifth grade to control for pre-treatment performance.

Results: The multilevel model predicting CTG revealed a significant effect (z=2.51, p>.01); students in CareerStart schools accrued on average one-quarter point more credits toward graduation. In the model predicting Biology EOC scores, a large and significant effect was found (z=401, p<.001), students who got CareerStart scored on average 2 points higher on a test where 47 is passing. In the model predicting English EOC, consistent with previous findings in terms of language arts exams, no effect was found, but a trend was observed (z=1.65, p<.10).

Conclusions and Implications: These findings support a long-term effect of career relevant instruction across the middle grades. While over the next 3 years we will be able to continually examine such effects as the intervention cohort progress through the high schools years. However, at this time the middle school engagement and academic performance effects reported in the other papers in this symposium, along with the current high school effects, lends strong support to the expanded implementation of CareerStart in urban at-risk school districts.